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How to speak Spanish

Understanding How to Use Spanish Accents

Many people struggle with pronouncing English words, because there’s no way to differentiate them in written language. While “read” (present tense) and “read” (past tense) are written the same, they’re pronounced differently. Luckily, Spanish solves this problem by adding accent marks to certain words. Spanish accent marks help differentiate a word’s meaning and, in many instances, how it’s pronounced. In this article, we’ll help you develop a stronger understanding of how to use Spanish accents.

Spanish Accent Marks

Spanish accent marks are called diacritics, meaning they add an extra symbol to an existing letter. They come in three different categories: the diaeresis (ü), the tilde (ñ), and the acute accent (é, á, í, ó, and ú). Spanish accent marks change the pronunciation of the letter they’re attached to. They’re placed at the top of certain letters and have three primary functions. Spanish accents signify questions, help distinguish words with identical spelling, and provide guidance on which syllable of the word needs to be stressed when spoken.

Spanish Accent Marks: Letters

The letters used in Spanish accent marks are only used on the vowels a, e, i, o, u, and on the consonant n. You will never use accent marks in Spanish on other letters of the alphabet. As mentioned, there are different categories of Spanish accent marks: diaeresis, tilde, and acute accents.


The Spanish diaeresis is only attached to the letter “u” and is designated by adding two dots above, so it appears as ü. This is not to be confused with an umlaut The diaeresis is a rarely used Spanish accent, but when present they always come either immediately after a “g” or immediately before an “e” or “i.” The diaeresis tells the reader that a “u” in a word should be pronounced as a fully articulated vowel, not just used to support the surrounding letters.


This Spanish accent mark is only attached to the letter “n” and is designated by adding a squiggly line above, so it appears as ñ. The n and ñ are technically two different letters in the Spanish alphabet and appear separately in the dictionary. An n without a tilde is pronounced like the English letter “n,” while an ñ with a tilde is pronounced more like “ny” in English.

Acute Accents

Acute accents are the most common accent marks in Spanish and are represented as a short diagonal line that extends from low to high, left to right above vowels: á, é, í, ó, and ú. Acute accents will never occur more than once per word and are used to stress the letter they’re attached to. This means the letter with the acute accent will be pronounced either louder or longer than the other letters in the word.

Understanding Spanish Pronunciation

There are two primary stress rules to help you understand how to pronounce words without Spanish accent marks.

Words ending in a vowel, -n, or -s will be stressed on the second to last syllable. For example:

  • hablo is pronounced as “HA-blo”
  • computadora is pronounded as “com-pu-ta-DO-ra”

Words ending in a consonant (not -n or -s) will be stressed on the last syllable. For example:

  • feliz is pronounced as “fe-LIZ”
  • trabajador is pronounced as “tra-ba-ja-DOR”

Each word has a Spanish accent, regardless of if there’s an accent mark. However, the natural accent is usually easily identified by rules in the language. You add the accent if the stress of the word breaks these rules. Accent marks in Spanish give a specific letter the stressed emphasis, which could either increase vowel length, change the pitch of the word that’s spoken, or increase the loudness of the letter it’s attached to.

Spanish accents

Spanish Accent Marks: Rules

There are four different rules that determine if you need to use a Spanish accent mark or not, all of which depend on the location of the stressed syllable. When you place a Spanish accent mark on a letter in a word, the stress is moved and therefore, breaks the pronunciation rules discussed above. While this can seem confusing, it just takes practice. That’s why Tandem has created a worldwide network of like-minded individuals exchanging language and helping each other achieve fluency. Download Tandem today to get started and continue perfecting your use of Spanish accents.

The four Spanish accent mark rules that will be consistently used throughout the language and are as follows:

Acute accents are required if the word ends in a vowel, -n, or -s and the stress is on the last syllable. A Spanish accent is needed since this directly contradicts one of the general pronunciation rules used in spoken language. Some examples include:

  • canción — song
  • comeré — I will eat

An acute accent is needed if the word ends in a consonant (not -n or -s) or a vowel and the stress is on the second to last syllable. This also directly contradicts one of the general pronunciation rules, so it’s important to familiarize yourself with some common instances of this Spanish accent rule. Some examples include:

  • árbol — tree
  • débil —weak

Acute accents need to be used if the stress is on the antepenultimate syllable. This means that the stress will be the syllable before the next to last. Some examples include:

  • fantástico — fantastic
  • océano — ocean

Finally, acute Spanish accent marks need to be used if the stress is on the syllable before the antepenultimate. This is often used when you incorporate Spanish pronouns with gerunds, imperatives, or Spanish infinitives. Some examples include:

  • fírmenselo — sign it for him
  • apréndetelo — memorize it

Per usual, there are exceptions to these stress rules, primarily in relation to words that end in -mente. This ending has two stressed syllables as opposed to one, which may make it more difficult to figure out where to place the Spanish accent. You can remove the ending (-mente) and then follow the above rules to determine the correct placement. Once you have written it, add the ending back on and stress both the accented Spanish letter and -MEN-te.

Similarly, all Spanish question words will need an acute accent, even if they don’t have one when used in a declarative sentence. This includes the following:

  • ¿Quién? — Who?
  • ¿Qué? — What?
  • ¿Por qué? — Why?
  • ¿Dónde? — Where?
  • ¿Cuándo? — When?
  • ¿Cómo? — How?
  • ¿Cuál? — Which?
  • ¿Cuánto? — How much/many?

Spanish Accent Marks and Homonyms

Homonyms are words that are spelled and pronounced the same but technically have different meanings. The Spanish accent helps to differentiate homonyms and creates clarity when trying to read or write. Since ñ is its own letter in the Spanish alphabet, they’re not considered homonyms with similar words without the tilde (i.e., año vs. ano). Some examples of homonyms in the Spanish language include the following:

  • si — if
  • sí — yes
  • el — the (masculine singular)
  • él — he
  • mas — but
  • más — more

Spanish accents

Do Spanish Speakers Accent When Writing?

Yes, Spanish speakers will always use the correct accent mark when writing as it can change the entire meaning of a word. Therefore, to make sure that you’re improving fluency across all modes of communication, it’s important to practice including accent marks in Spanish in all of your written work.

Which Months Have Accents in Spanish?

None of the months in the Spanish language have accents when used as nouns. However, a few of the months can be used as Spanish adjectives, which may include the presence of a Spanish accent.

Remember that the months of the year in Spanish are not capitalized like they are in English. March can also be used as an adjective but does not have an accent mark. All the other months of the year can only be used as Spanish nouns.

Spanish Accents on the Keyboard

Most keyboards have shortcuts to Spanish accents that can be accessed by pressing and holding down the letter you want to accent. This is especially true on mobile phones, where using accents is the most accessible. Thankfully, thanks to technological advancements, this means that using Spanish accents on the keyboard is easier than ever. When you’re learning how to use Spanish accents and how to type Spanish accents, you need to be able to find them quickly on your keyboard. Try practicing using Spanish accents or adding a Spanish keyboard to your phone for easier access during writing.

How to Type Spanish Accents on a Mac

You can type Spanish accents on a Mac by finding the letter you want to accent and holding it down until a small box with options appears. You’ll then be able to choose between a variety of different accents by pressing the number that’s listed below. Since some letters have several accents available, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the difference between Spanish accents and those in other languages. For example, if you want to type a Spanish ñ on a Mac, you’ll hold down the “n” key and then press the number that corresponds with the ñ. The other option for an accented “n” is ń, which is only used in the Polish alphabet.

If, for some reason, holding down the letter doesn’t work on your Mac, you can hold down the Option/Alt key and the e key at once. Once you release both keys, you simply type the letter you wish to accent. This works for á, é, í, ó, and ú. For example, to write an a with a Spanish accent, hold down the Option/Alt key and the e key, then release both and type the letter “a.”

To create an ñ, hold down the Option/Alt key and the “n” at once, release, then hit the “n” key. To create an ü, hold down the Option/Alt key and the “u” at once, release, then hit the “u” key. To create an ¡, press down Option/Alt and the “1” key at the same time. To write an ¿, press the Option/Alt key, Shift, and “?” all at once.

How to Type Spanish Accents on a PC

Typing Spanish accents on a PC is a little different, as you’ll need to press down on the Ctrl key and the ‘ key at the same time, then release and press the key of the vowel you want to accent. When writing an ñ, you’ll press down Ctrl and the ~ key, then release and press the “n” key. You may also be able to write Spanish accents using special character codes for each letter.

The codes are as follows and the numbers need to be typed on the numeric keypad located on the right side of your keyboard:

  • á alt + 0225
  • é alt + 0233
  • í alt + 0237
  • ó alt + 0243
  • ú alt + 0250
  • ñ alt + 0241
  • ü alt + 0252
  • ¡ alt+ 0161
  • ¿ alt + 0191

How to Type Accents with a Spanish Keyboard

Typing Spanish accents on a Spanish keyboard is fairly similar to the above, except accented letters have their own shortcuts on the keys. When using a Spanish keyboard, you’ll notice that the only Spanish accent with its own key is the eñe (ñ). You may notice that on the “e” key, there will be a shortcut for é that can be activated by simply pressing Shift and the “e.” This helps increase the speed of which individuals can type in Spanish, so it may be worth it to get if you plan to produce a lot of written work in Spanish.

While learning Spanish accents may seem difficult, the pronunciation and usage is consistent and adheres to specific rules. The best way to become comfortable using them in your written and spoken language is to practice. To support your journey, Tandem offers a unique language learning experience that will help you deepen your understanding and improve fluency.

Our community includes millions of learners who speak languages across the world. All you need to do is download the app, sign up, and find a native speaker of your target language. Once you match, you’ll begin communicating through language exchange and one-on-one teachings. When trying to navigate the complexities that surround learning a new language, connecting with a like-minded native speaker can be extremely beneficial. To join our worldwide community, sign up for Tandem today and get started on your journey towards fluency.

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